Haida Gwaii worries about COVID-19 as fishing lodge reopens

B.C. government hopes both sides can reach a mutual solution.

Tensions are rising in Haida Gwaii over a business reopening to tourists during the pandemic.

Sport fishing operator Queen Charlotte Lodge plans to open July 10 despite concerns from the First Nation about the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

The island of Haida Gwaii is located off the north coast of British Columbia and has been closed to non-residents for months.

However, Phase 3 of the B.C. government’s restart plan means more businesses can open and non-essential travel is permitted.

This is a concern for elected Chief Duffy Edgars of Old Massett Village Council.

“We are still in the state of emergency on Haida Gwaii,” he said. “We haven’t lifted ours yet.

“We are still trying to protect our elders, all our knowledge keepers, by keeping the tourists away for now.”

(A checkpoint earlier this summer helped keep non-residents away. APTN file)

On July 5, Queen Charlotte Lodge released a statement claiming harassment by members of Haida Nation on the water.

“There were a number of close calls as our staff skillfully avoided being rammed by the Council of the Haida Nation (CHN) and other boats – fortunately there were no collisions or injuries, “said lodge president Paul Clough in his statement.

“Queen Charlotte Lodge has repeatedly tried for many weeks to have a constructive discussion with CHN regarding the concerns it has raised around the operation of a commercial fishing lodge in the current COVID-19 situation.”

Edgars said his members were delivering a letter on the weekend when a large convoy heading to the lodge rushed through members’ boats.

“All 42 boats went right through the middle of our convoy, and they never slowed down. They just waked all of our boats, and we had elders, children and chief, and all of our politicians on all of the boats,” said Edgars.

In an emailed statement to APTN News, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser said he was aware of the conflict.

“We acknowledge that some First Nations, including Haida Nation, have concerns about re-opening to visitors. B.C. government officials continue to meet weekly with Haida Nation as part of the United Coastal Communities to discuss the pandemic response, identify concerns and share information,” he said in the email.

“Regional representatives from the provincial government also regularly meet with Haida Nation representatives.”

Public health officials have acknowledged Indigenous communities have done a good job of keeping COVID-19 infections down.

Fraser said he was hopeful the lodge and First Nation could reach a mutual resolution.

But Edgars wants to see the lodge follow the lead of other operators on the island.

“Langara Fishing Lodge they are being very respectful with the Haida Nation and they are not going to open up this season until they get OK from council of the Haida Nation,” said Edgars.

(Tarah Samuels is a member of Haida Nation. Submitted photo)

Tarah Samuels acknowledged the lodge was accessible by boat and air but said its guests would still come in contact with Haida residents.

Whether it was delivering supplies or during extreme weather, she said the interactions would put their communities at risk and could strain the limited medical system.

She said it was not uncommon for a storm to leave tourists stranded needing to seek refuge in the towns.

There have been tourists that have let Haida members know that they want to visit but will stay away out of respect for their nation.

“There is a big opportunity (to spread the virus) for anyone coming through these fishing lodges because of the disconnect to the community; they don’t possibly understand the implications of what their travel is entailing,” she said.

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